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Third Place

Nancy Feather


I got me one of them 35-mm cameras for Christmas, and I just woke up one morning and decided I was going to be a photographer of nature. Well, I started submitting pictures to every magazine I could think of – all the national magazines and a couple of magazines here in West Virginia. I wasn’t havin’ very good luck. I was gettin’ letters that would just have “No” written in great big letters. There was one magazine in West Virginia — I’m not going to tell you which one, because I don’t want to cause any rivalry between those magazines — they used real nice words to me like, “We hope you have a real bright future,” and, “We’re wishing you luck in your photographic endeavors.” They seemed real concerned about me, too, about the cost of film and developin’. They said maybe I ought to not waste so much money on that. You gotta kind of read between the lines. I think what they was actually sayin’ was, “Keep on a-snappin’.”

So, I thought I’d just go travelin’ around West Virginia, findin’ beautiful things to photograph everywhere I go. I was in Cathedral State Park, and they got the biggest hemlock trees you have ever seen. Huge hemlock trees. They got these other trees, too. I could not get anybody, not a soul, who knew the name of these trees. Everybody I’d ask would tell me they was just poplar, so I’d take a bunch of pictures of ‘em. I even asked the game warden, point-blank. I said, “Are these popular trees?”

And he said, “I guarantee you, those are real poplar.”

Well, he was also tellin’ me about this preacher that lives out there in the woods. He must be there all day long, every day, and he even set up his own pulpit. The warden said I might run into him out there in the woods. He said, “You might see jack-in-the-pulpit out there.” I looked everywhere for him, but I never did see him.

Well, I thought I’d better get lookin’ around the park. I had my kerosene lantern with me, just in case it got dark before I got back. I set it there on the footbridge and was pumpin’ it up to make sure that it was going to be in good workin’ order. I looked down into the creek, and it was just filled with trout. Every kind of trout you could imagine – brown trout, gold trout, speckled trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, every kind of trout. And I thought, “Well, as my uncle always used to say, ‘I’m just wishin’ I could go fishin.’” I knew I couldn’t fish in the park, but that didn’t stop me from wadin’ down in the water. So, I got down in there. I’d only taken a step or two, and the biggest crawdad you ever saw came out from under a rock. I mean, that thing had pinchers on it the size of Rhode Island, and he came at me. I thought he was tryin’ to get me. He came backwards at me real fast, about scared me to death. I lost my footin’, did a flip, went up in the air a couple of times. If I’d been at the Olympics, I think that might have been a perfect 10, if I could have just nailed that landin’. But I didn’t. I fell flat on my backside in that creek. I landed right on top of one of them pretty rainbow trout, and well, let’s just say he didn’t look much like a trout no more. Maybe more like a flapjack.

I took another step or two, and my feet went slippin’ and slidin’ again. My fish went flyin’ through the air, and I thought, “I am gettin’ out of this creek before I plumb kill myself.”

I decided I’d just walk around, go down a couple of these paths. That way, I’d get dried off and wouldn’t have a chill after dark. Well, as I was headin’ back, I could smell the most wonderful smell you’ve ever smelled – this aroma wafting through the air. I didn’t know what it was. I thought I was the only one in the park at that time of night. I guess that trout had just flew out of my hand and landed right on top of my lantern. It was cooked to a golden, crispy brown. Now, lucky for me, I just happened to have my three-in-one camping utensil with me – the one with the additional stainless-steel toothpick. I picked every bit of meat off those bones, and I was down to the last bite. I got ready to put the last scrumptious bite in my mouth, and this big spotlight shone on me. Why, for a second I thought I was on center stage at Radio City Music Hall, exceptin’ there wasn’t no music, and I ain’t no Rockette. Then I heard this voice say, “Put your hands up, and drop your weapon.”

“ Are you talkin’ to me? This weapon? My three-in-one combination camping utensil with the additional stainless steel toothpick?”

He said, “Drop your weapon.”

I said, “Okay.” I dropped it. Well, when I did, that stainless steel toothpick punctured a hole in the canister of my lantern, and that gas went sprayin’ up. When it hit the flame, it just kinda set off a little mini-explosion and caught that footbridge on fire. The game warden was walkin’ up, and he saw the flames and radioed for the fire department. I thought, “I’m going to get down in that creek and start splashin’ with the water, tryin’ to get this fire out before the fire department gets here.”

Well, they showed up. I guess they didn’t see me down there in the creek. They had two pumper trucks. They turned on both those hoses full-blast, all at once. They hit me in the back, sent me propellin’ down that creek. The game warden thought I was tryin’ to escape. He jumped in front of the hoses, and he came propellin’ after me. Said I was being charged with fishing without a license, fishing in an undesignated area, cookin’ in an undesignated area, brandishing a weapon, and fleeing the scene of a crime.

I walked over to him to try and explain what happened, and I accidently tripped on one of those tree roots that was stickin’ up. I tried to catch myself, but he moved. All I could get a-hold of was his holster as I was fallin’ down, and I pulled his pistol out of the holster. Accidentally, I swear, somehow I got my finger wrapped up in that trigger, and when my arm hit the ground, well, let’s just say that the gun went off and shot the front tire out of the approaching sheriff’s cruiser as he was drivin’ up. Well, he thought there was a full assault. He radioed for every unit. He radioed for aerial backup, jumped out of the cruiser, stood behind the door with the gun, and all I could think was, “Where is that preacher when you need him?”

I told him, “It was an accident.” All I could think of was, “I’m gettin’ sent to the slammer. I’m being thrown in the hoosegow. I’m going up the river. I’m going to the big house. Johnny Cash, move over. San Quentin, here I come.”

Well, they handcuffed me, took me to jail, and I got me one of them smooth-talkin’ city lawyers. I went in front of that judge, and the judge said, “How do you plead?”

And I said, “This was all a misunderstandin’. This was an accident. My backside killed that fish, and that’s how this all started.”

Well, my lawyer thought he’d take over right about then. He said, “Your Honor, you can see my client ain’t no criminal. She’s just a brick shy of a load. She’s half-a-bubble off plumb. She ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed. In summation, Your Honor, the lights are on, but they ain’t nobody home.”

So, thanks to his slick talkin’, his style, his ability, his expertise, I done got myself vindicated, exonerated, and I’m once again free to roam the hills and the valleys of West Virginia, makin’ beautiful pictures.

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